Patient engagement. Patient satisfaction. Patient education. Patient communication. Many people are using these buzzwords to describe the process of helping patients and employees understand “why” certain things are happening in the healthcare industry. At the end of the day, for a patient to follow directions on living a healthier life or follow a treatment plan, they need to understand what is in it for them. In other words, why they should care?
Here’s the good news: increasing your focus on education, training, and development will help make that answer clear. The bad news is that the typical healthcare system is falling down on the job when it comes to this task. Instead of taking the time to give complete answers, often the answers center on a “because I said so” mode of patient management.
Take something simple like controlling diet-based high cholesterol. A lot of the time, the conversation sounds like this:
Provider: “Your bad cholesterol is pretty high. You need to start watching what you eat, or we can put you on this statin.”
Patient: “OK. I’ll start to eat better. But do I need to make as many changes if I take the statin?”
Provider: “I would, but the statin will work pretty fast regardless of your diet. Try it, come back in 30 days and we’ll see what happens.”
There is no in-depth conversation on how high cholesterol occurs, how diet affects cholesterol, what foods to eat and avoid to naturally lower cholesterol, or the side effects of the pharmaceutical.
So guess what is going to happen? The patient is going to make drastic changes in two days, decide it is too hard to maintain, and then go back to eating their regular diet. The patient may end up with a side effect, and determine that the drug is killing them and not take it. The end result: both the patient and doctor will be surprised when the cholesterol level is still high at their next appointment.
The problem is that there was no buy-in. The patient is not vested in the process of getting better because they do not know the why it matters and how it affects them. But how can healthcare systems and providers get buy-in?
While every person is motivated differently, a few things tend to work:
Have a frank discussion. Tell the patient exactly what is wrong with them (in conventional terms), the risks associated with their disease state, and what types of treatments (both pharmacological and natural) are best for treating them. Being direct but understandable will have more of an impact than avoiding the issue.
Follow up with the patient. Most patients do not remember what you tell them after an initial diagnosis, because of shock and fear. Assign a person in the office to call patients a few days after their appointments to reinforce what was told to them. Give patients a direct way to get a hold of someone with questions.
Blast them with patient education. Use direct email, direct mail, social media, and your website to force feed disease-specific and general health and wellness education to patients. Receiving information will bubble to the top of their reading list. It will show that providers care about them and are vested in their health.
Surround them with patient education. A typical appointment is 45 minutes of downtime and 10 minutes of activity. Create an environment that makes the most of this dwell time. Turn the waiting room into a patient education station by replacing the TV with a digital education system, adding pamphlets and personalized reading materials on diseases, and dedicating a computer for patients to search the office’s website. Once in the exam room, hand them a tablet with more disease-specific materials. Add a screen saver to in-room computers that display information on key ancillary service providers.
Keep educators up to date on wellness programs and latest developments to improve people’s lifestyles. The most important part of this investment is that the patient benefit causes your business to grow, such as:
- Patient engagement. Patients will notice the effort you are making to improve their health. They will work harder to achieve positive outcomes and to be healthier.
- Patient satisfaction. Your current patients start to trust you more and increase their visit frequency to keep you in the loop. Your patients suddenly refer more people to you. Why? Naturally, when a patient feels like a provider is giving them their all, the patient will reciprocate. And an engaged patient is more satisfied with their provider.
- Return on investment. Typically, systems see a significant return on investment on this type of effort. This happens through more patients staying in the network for a continuum of care, fewer “switches” to another health system, and more referrals.
- Decreased readmissions. There are numerous studies that show how patient engagement and education are the keys to reduce readmissions. At the core of this program is the belief that healthier patients live better lives.
And the most important benefit is that you will be making a positive impact in the community you assist.
If you don’t know where to start, join me in my upcoming webcast on June 19 at 1 p.m. EDT. Learn how to design a program that informs patients on their disease state and the ways to manage it (both with and without medication), what questions they should ask their doctors, and how their treatment plan may affect them both positively and negatively (the why they should care). Also learn how to apply emerging and learning technologies, such as customized platforms tailored to the needs of your health system, office, and patient demographics. These tools will help ensure that the only messages your patients hear are yours. Finally, the webcast will help you learn how to start turning your practice into an interactive center between staff and patients. Register today.